Senate elections chair to target Milwaukee Co. and others in new GOP investigation, shows support for Gableman's review
MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- The Republican chair of the Senate's elections commission says she will further investigate why three communities didn't turn over ballots requested by auditors during a review of the 2020 election.
Senate Republicans announced Monday, Oct. 25, they were going to launch another review of the 2020 presidential election just days after the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau wrapped up its work examining ballots and election documents.
Senate Majority Leader Devin LaMahieu (R-Oostburg) said the Senate elections committee will "conduct an additional investigation about the audits findings." Hours later, Senator Kathy Bernier (R-Chippewa Falls), chair of the committee, said the focus of the probe will be reviewing Milwaukee, Madison and Little Suamaico for their refusal to hand over physical ballots to auditors.
Bernier said each of those clerks did not follow state law that requires them to participate with the audit.
"When the Legislative Audit Bureau requests information, that is what they should be getting," Bernier said. "They have the legal authority to review whatever they need to review."
Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson and other officials argue they offered ballots to auditors, but told them they couldn't be physically touched according to guidance they received from the U.S. Department of Justice.
"My office stated that the ballots would have had to be physically handled only by our staff – a service which we were more than willing to provide to the auditors," said Christenson in a statement Friday. "Auditors were fine with this and ultimately did not request access to ballots."
Republicans argued auditors should be able to handle ballots during this review.
"I just think their excuses are flimsy," Bernier said.
The additional review comes after the Republican co-chair of the legislative audit committee called the audit report "safe and secure." Senate Democrats asked for the GOP efforts to come to an end.
"This continued partisan witch hunt is a waste of taxpayer dollars, state resources, and continues the erosion of trust in our institutions," said Senator Melissa Agard (D-Madison). "The Republican co-chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee agreed that last week’s audit report proved that Wisconsin's election was safe and secure. It's time to move on."
Support for Gableman's Investigation
Sen. Bernier is also now showing support for the attorney in charge of a GOP election review after initially doubting the investigation was necessary.
The Republican, the former Chippewa County clerk, tells CBS 58 she backs Michael Gableman's efforts to investigate how private grant money was spent during the 2020 election.
In August, Bernier said it wouldn't be productive to launch another investigation since, at that time, the nonpartisan Legislature Audit Bureau was also conducting a separate review.
The bureau released its findings and recommendations on Friday and Bernier said she was disappointed auditors did not look into how private grant money was spent and distributed to over 200 communities during the 2020 presidential election.
"I find that that was one of the gaping holes that [auditors] didn't delve into," said Bernier. "I understand that this is one of the issues that former Justice Gableman is going to delve into and I'm looking forward to that report."
Gableman, who was hired by Assembly Speaker Vos and being paid $686,000 in taxpayer dollars, has centered his investigation so far around $10 million in election grants aimed at helping clerks during the pandemic.
The group Center for Tech and Civic Life, which is funded by Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg, distributed the grants, with a majority of the funds going to Wisconsin's five largest cities that were served subpoenas by Gableman.
Bernier has defended claims the election was stolen and believes President Joe Biden won fair and square.
Last month she held an informational hearing to debunk conspiracy theories about the election. On the other hand, Gableman has claimed, without proof, the election was stolen before he was hired.